As an equine veterinarian, I have been involved with the horses of eastern Santa Cruz Island for some time, first as veterinarian for one of the private owners of the island and more recently in my efforts to preserve the wild herd there after the National Park Service revealed its intention to remove the horses, currently 15 of them.
One of the island's former owners has said this is a historic herd and wishes them to remain on the island for public appreciation.
In an interview with The Times on June 25, Channel Islands National Park Supt. Tim Setnicka said, "You really have to listen to what people have to say," yet so far he has been deaf to the more than 2,000 people who have signed petitions asking that the wild horses remain on the island. We might reasonably ask how many more voices have to be heard before he will listen to what people have to say.
Setnicka said the wild horses "have a very minimal [negative] impact on restoration efforts." I certainly agree with this assessment. Foundation for Horses and Other Animals experts have repeatedly said that the horses actually have a beneficial effect on the ecosystem because they forage for noxious weeds.
I was shocked at Supt. Setnicka's suggestion that the foundation would like to have 500 horses in the national park. Never in my involvement have I heard any suggestion of even close to that figure.
The foundation has always held closely to my recommendation that rather than pick an arbitrary number, we should have a panel of biologists and geneticists, chosen by both the park service and the foundation, arrive at a number that would be in concert with the native habitat. The foundation has offered in writing to keep the herd at that number, at no cost to the park service, by using the management techniques that have been so successful for the wild horse herds in the Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland.
I would also like to point out that I clearly reiterated this plan only last month in a meeting between Supt. Setnicka and a group of supporters of the Santa Cruz Island wild herd. This meeting was attended and facilitated by Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara). Where Setnicka arrived at the arbitrary figure of 500, I cannot imagine, but it is completely false.
The Santa Cruz Island horses have coexisted with campers and hikers since the park service took over in 1990. There has not been a single serious injury ever reported.
The foundation's objectives are clear: The magnificent herd of wild horses has a right to live in harmony on its island home. The public should have the privilege of enjoying its presence.
I sincerely hope that Supt. Setnicka will truly listen to the public and will sit down in good faith with the foundation and settle on a plan to preserve and manage this small herd in its native habitat.